Monday, February 21, 2011

Teach For America: It isn't simple

Veteran education reporter John Merrow posted an intriguing blog item marking the 20th anniversary of Teach For America. He stakes himself out as neither fan nor foe, but a member of "the lonely middle" who sees both inspiration and failure in the program that sends bright young recruits into needy schools.

What caught my eye was his account of trying to sell a documentary to funders who invariably asked if his report was positive or negative. His answer: No.

"We had captured reality, and reality is full of small victories and defeats. A couple of the TFA teachers were splendid, seemingly born to teach. Two were flops. One got a raw deal from his principal and never hit his stride. It was life, but no potential funders were interested in that story."

Every reporter can relate. Miracles and gotchas make great headlines. Complexity doesn't. It can be tempting to pick a side and tell a simple story, but the truth of public education and the lives of real people are complicated.

John's conclusion is a good one: Even if an honest look at complexity doesn't hand you an answer, it can help you ask a better question.


Anonymous said...

It IS complicated, but the mission of TFA is to put recruits as a temporary bastion in areas that can't get teachers...unfortunately, as Charlotte prepares to layoff YET AGAIN... another 250 recruits are on the way...paid for by the "saved" Race for the Top funds and at the expense of people who have entered the profession as a career. Because CMS signed a contract it can't get out of, we are stuck as a community with hundreds of temps who move in from all over the country, while members of our community are losing their jobs to make room for these lower paid workers. TFA is to teaching what Undocumented Migrant Workers are to farming. They aren't bad people, but thanks to being a media darling and political poster-child for reform, TFA is able to infiltrate communities and stay there past being needed.

Musikteacher said...

those who started the TFA program were sincere in their desire to recruit new, dedicated teachers who perhaps had never considered the career. Unfortunately,the CMS school system chose to use it as a way to save money at the expense of the students. I taught for 27 years, have two Master's degrees, doctoral work, a proven record of success in the classroom with stkudents going on to post-secondary learning who was told by my principal "Ican get 3 TFA teachers for what you are being paid. The bottom line is you are out and they are in." And that is an exact quote.

Anonymous said...


Your fancy degrees and years of experience only make you effective, qualified and proficient if you're a CMS administrator. But you already know this.

I'm still waiting for feedback about CMS's TeacherInsight Gallup Poll test that all new hires are required to take and boldly claims to measures teacher effectiveness based on things that can't be learned in any college classroom. I'm curious to know if TFA teachers are required to take this test also. Once a potential hire takes the test, they are not allowed to see or access their score. Scores are for Gallup and CMS eyes only.

I think a BoardofEducationInsight test should be mandated or at least some other type of psychological test that measures things like loony-ness, ineptness, egomania, the ability to play well with others and so on.

Anonymous said...

Even Wendy Kopp doesn't claim that TFA is all positive. What TFA has shown is that it is a crucible for reflective practice, one that is flexible and agile. That's what makes it appealing to investors.

Wiley Coyote said...

Look Spot.
Oh look.
Look and see.
Oh, see.

Come Jane.
Come and see.
Come, come.
Come and see.
Look at Spot.

It used to be so simple.

Anonymous said...

See Dick jump off a cliff.

Ann Doss Helms said...

I, too, am waiting for an answer on the Insight poll. Put the query in last week, but in fairness, I was also badgering CMS folks about more urgent stuff.

CMS Watcher said...

And let's not forget The New Teacher Project!, aka TFA's sister project (Wendy Kopp is also on the tntp board.... hmmmmm, v. interesting don't you think?) and CMS is taking 100 of their new teachers this next school year. Keep asking the great questions, Ann!

Anonymous said...

I for one am a big fan of your complex education-related stories - not such a fan of the oversimplified controversies. Thanks to you and your editors for the energy you invest in the former.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks, 1:30. I'm working on performance pay and value-added ratings now. My editor deserves combat pay for slashing through the first drafts of that!

therestofthestory said...

Thanks Ann. Whatis curious to me is that Judge Manning had said explicitively that he did not want "rookie" teachers teaching at risk students. And as another poster said, these TFA's and NTP's are today's new "scabs". Their time was when we could get highly talented teachers into these schools. But you know what? If you look at one of the state's reports, our high poverty classrooms have a higher percentage (>97%) of highly qualified teachers in them than our non poverty classrooms. And also, ask the veteran teachers about what they have to do to "carry" these TFA's to ensure the program looks successful.

Anonymous said...

Forget TFA for two seconds,

why were new $80,000 scoreboards installed at several middle schools when middle school sports is going to be cut? Check out Coulwood Middle.

Why doesn't the Observer report this waste of money? Most local papers would be all over this!